Category Archives: Wage

The 5th Coronavirus Relief Package We Need

The coronavirus depression is fast becoming as deep as the Great Depression. The federal government’s response has been too little, too late.

While sickness and death spread, while unemployment and small business failures soar, while health care and essential workers lack personal protective equipment (PPE), Congress is in recess until May 4.

The childlike dummy, Donald Trump, spouts bad advice daily in his televised briefings. Thursday he said we could beat the coronavirus by injecting disinfectants or somehow shining ultraviolet radiation inside our bodies.

Meanwhile, the presumptive Democratic nominee, Joe Biden, is MIA. Is he sitting on a park bench somewhere feeding bread crumbs to pigeons?

Since the lockdown started five weeks ago, 26 million people have applied for unemployment insurance. But many qualified people have yet to receive unemployment benefits, or even get their applications accepted through overwhelmed state unemployment insurance agencies.

Economists estimate that the real unemployment rate may have reached 23% in April, which is about as high as it ever got in the Great Depression. The economy had contracted nearly 50% four years into Great Depression, while economists predict a contraction of 25% to 50% over a few months now.

Many of these temporary layoffs are turning into permanent job losses as businesses fail, particularly the small business that provide half of the nation’s jobs. Half of small businesses went into the lockdown with less than a month of cash reserves to cover fixed expenses like rent or mortgage and utilities. When small businesses run out of cash, they are dead.

The Payroll Protection Program (PPP) was supposed to keep these small businesses going, but like the unemployment insurance program, the loans are not getting to most people and the money allocated is far from enough to meet the need. 60% of small businesses have applied, but only 5% small businesses have received PPP funding.

When the lockdown started, Obama’s Small Business Administration head, Karen Mills, predicted a small business failure rate of 20% in a “best case scenario” and 30% in a “good scenario.” With a nearly 100% failure rate by the federal government in responding to the coronavirus depression, the carnage among small businesses and their workers is looking like a worst case scenario.

Big businesses are getting bailed out. Much of the money designated for small businesses has been snatched up by big businesses before small business’s applications were even considered. The half a trillion allocated for big businesses is being doled out to Trump cronies without disclosure of the recipients and without restrictions against firing workers or bonuses for executives. The Federal Reserve has cut its overnight borrowing interest rate for banks to zero and is engaged in unlimited trillions of dollars of quantitative easing to backstop corporate debt.

Meanwhile, essential workers—in hospitals, grocery stores, public transit, sanitation, food processing, package handling, delivery—are working in most cases without adequate or any PPE. We have already lost 83 transit workers to COVID-19 in New York City. We must demand an OSHA Temporary Standard to provide enforceable PPE protection for workers.

Most of the elements of the 5th Relief Package we need have been introduced by various members of Congress, but they won’t be included if we don’t speak up and demand real emergency relief.

Here are measures the 5th Relief Package should include to protect our health and well-being during the crisis:

– Medicare to Pay for COVID-19 Testing and Treatment and All Emergency Health Care
– Defense Production Act to Rapidly Plan the Production and Distribution of Medical Supplies and a Universal Test, Contact Trace, and Quarantine – – Program to Safely Reopen the Economy
– An OSHA Temporary Standard to Provide Enforceable PPE Protection for Workers
– $2,000 a Month to All Over Age 16 and $500 per Child
– Loans to All Businesses and Hospitals for Payroll and Fixed Overhead To Be Forgiven If All Workers Are Kept on Payroll
– Moratorium on Evictions, Foreclosures, and Utility Shutoffs
– Cancel Rent, Mortgage, and Utility Payments; Federal Government Pays Those Bills; High-income People Pay Taxes on this Relief
– Suspend Student Loan Payments with 0% Interest Accumulation
– Federal Universal Rent Control
– Aid to State and Local Governments Sufficient to Keep Essential Services Running
– Universal Mail-in Ballots for the 2020 General Election

A study by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco found that over the last 600 years, the economic depression after pandemics persists for about 40 years, in contrast to much faster recoveries after wars. The difference is that capital is destroyed in wars that has to be rebuilt, but not in pandemics. Coming out of this pandemic, we should destroy the productive capital stock that has been heating up the planet and poisoning the environment and replace it with clean energy, zero waste production systems.

To rebuild our economy when it is safe to go back to work, we should invest public money on the scale needed to put everyone to back to doing what we should have been doing before the coronavirus crisis hit in order to protect our climate and our people. I have detailed a 10-Year, $42 Trillion budget for an Ecosocialist Green New Deal that would create 38 million new jobs rebuilding all of our production systems for zero-to-negative greenhouse gas emissions, zero-waste recycling, and 100% clean renewable energy by 2030 in order to reverse the climate crisis and other environmental problems.

This full-strength Green New Deal includes an Economic Bill of Rights to end poverty and economic despair. It provides for a job guarantee, a guaranteed income above poverty, affordable housing, Medicare for All, lifelong tuition-free public education, and a secure retirement by doubling Social Security benefits. We need the Green New Deal now for economic recovery as well as climate safety.

If Farm Workers Are “Essential,” Why Are They Treated So Badly?

On March 19, 2020, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, spurred to action by the coronavirus pandemic, issued a memorandum that identified the nation’s 2.5 million farm workers as “essential” workers.  Soon thereafter, agribusinesses began distributing formal letters to their farm laborers, also declaring that that they were “essential.”

Of course, it shouldn’t have required a government-business effort to establish this point.  Without farm workers, there is no food.  And the American people need food to survive.

But, remarkably, over the course of U.S. history, farm workers, although essential, have been terribly mistreated.  Whether as slaves, indentured servants, sharecroppers, or migrant laborers, these millions of hardworking people endured harsh and brutal lives, enriching others while living (and usually dying) in poverty.

Nor is the situation very different today.  Farm labor remains hard, grinding physical toil, often requiring long hours of bending and repetitive motion to gather crops under conditions of extreme heat.  Back strain, poisoning by pesticides, and other injuries, sometimes leading to death, contribute to making agriculture one of the nation’s most hazardous industries.  Employment is often seasonal or otherwise precarious.

Some problems hit portions of the farm labor force particularly hard.  Roughly half of all farm workers are undocumented immigrants, a status that places them in constant fear of being arrested, deported, and separated from their families.   Furthermore, women farm workers face high levels of sexual harassment, thereby confronting them with the difficult choice of reporting it and facing the possibility of being fired or remaining silent and allowing the harassment to continue.

In recent decades, the federal government has prosecuted numerous growers and labor traffickers in the Southeastern United States for what one U.S. attorney called “slavery, plain and simple.”  These cases revealed farm workers were lured to the United States under false pretenses and, then, deprived of their passports, chained, held under armed guard, and forced to work.  If they refused, they were threatened with violence, beaten, drugged, raped, pistol whipped, and even shot.  In 2015, President Obama awarded the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, which exposed these practices, the Presidential Award for Extraordinary Efforts in Combatting Modern Day Slavery.

Although people performing some of the hardest and most essential work in the United States certainly seem to deserve a break―or at least reasonable compensation―they have not received it.  In 2017, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, a quarter of all farm workers had a family income below the official poverty level, while most of the others teetered just above it.  Most of them were forced to rely on at least one public assistance program.  Even after some of the more progressive states raised the state minimum wage, the average wages of farm workers remained abysmal.  In 2019, they earned only a little more than half the hourly pay rate of all American workers.

Moreover, they now face enormous danger from the coronavirus pandemic.  Greg Asbed, a leading voice for agricultural laborers, has pointed out that, for farm workers, “the two most promising measures for protecting ourselves from the virus and preventing its spread―social distancing and self-isolation―are virtually impossible.”  Many farm workers live, crowded together, in decrepit, narrow trailers or barracks, ride to and from their workplaces in crowded buses, have little access to water and soap once in the fields, and cook and shower in the same cramped housing facility.  Rapid contagion is almost inevitable, and very few have access to healthcare of any kind.

Despite the heightened danger, though, working―even working while sick―is the only practical option for farm workers, for, given their impoverishment, they cannot afford to be unemployed.  Very few receive paid sick days.  Some, to be sure, will be assisted by the one-time $1,200 payment Congress voted for members of low and middle income families.  But undocumented workers, who constitute so many of the nation’s millions of farm workers, are excluded from the provisions of that legislation.  Nor are undocumented workers eligible for unemployment insurance―although, of course, they pay the taxes that fund these programs, as well as the programs that are now bailing out America’s multi-billion dollar industries.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration is getting set to deliver yet another blow to farm workers.  Almost a tenth of that work force is comprised of Mexican guest workers, legally admitted to the United States for short periods under the U.S. Agriculture Department’s H-2A program.  As America’s big agricultural growers are perennially short of laborers to harvest their crops, they have pressed hard for the admission of these guest workers.  But they dislike the fact that, to avoid undercutting the wages of American workers, the H-2A program sets the wage level for guest workers at local American wage standards.  And in states like California, the state’s rising minimum wage has lifted the wages of farm workers considerably beyond the pitiful federal minimum of $7.25 an hour.  As a result, the growers have fought for years to reduce the wages paid to guest workers.  Finally, in April 2020, the news broke that their dream of cheap labor would soon be realized, for the Trump administration is now laying plans to lower the guest worker wage rate to $8.34 an hour.  These plans, made at the same time that farmers and ranchers are about to receive a $16 billion federal bailout, will cut between $2 and $5 per hour from the pay of guest farm workers.

Naturally, small labor organizations like the United Farm Workers, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, and the Farm Labor Organizing Committee are fiercely resisting the continued exploitation of the 2.5 million people who grow and harvest America’s food.  But there are severe limits to their power, given the greed of the agribusiness industry, plus the nakedly pro-business policies of the Trump administration and its Republican allies in Congress and many states.  For the time being, at least, farm workers seem likely to remain essential, but expendable.

The Decade Of Transformation Is Here: Remaking The Economy For The People

The pandemic, economic collapse and the government’s response to them are going to not only determine the 2020 election but define the future for this decade and beyond. People are seeing the failure of the US healthcare nonsystem and the economy. The government was able to provide trillions for big business and Wall Street without asking the usual, “Where will we get the money?” However, the rescue bill recently passed by Congress provides a fraction of what most people need to get through this period. Once again, a pandemic will reshape the course of history.

Last week, we wrote about the failings of the healthcare system and the need for a universal, publicly-funded system. This week, we focus on the need to change the US economic system. The economic crisis in the United States is breaking all records. The class war that has existed for decades is being magnified and sharpened. The failings of financialized, neoliberal capitalism is being brought into focus at a time when people in the United States have greater support for socializing the economy than in recent times.

This Thursday, there was a record 3.3 million applications for unemployment, an increase of three million from the previous week, but on the same day, there was a record rise in the stock market. This contradiction shows the divide between the economic insecurity of the people and investors profiting from the crisis. The 11.4 percent increase in the stock market on Thursday was the largest increase since 1933 while the record rise in unemployment was 40 percent higher than ever recorded. Projections are for 30 percent unemployment this quarter, which is five percent higher than the worst of the Great Depression.

The response to the economic crisis reveals who the government represents. While people’s economic insecurity grew, the government acted to primarily benefit the wealthiest. This realization should spur an uprising like the United States has never seen before. Perhaps the most dangerous to the ruling class is their incompetence has been exposed. As Glen Ford writes, “The capitalist ‘crisis of legitimacy’ may have passed the point of no return, as the Corporate State proves daily that it cannot perform the basic function of protecting the lives of its citizens.”

Disaster Aid: Crumbs For The People, Trillions For The Wealthiest

Congress unanimously passed a $1.6 trillion coronavirus disaster aid bill this week. This is almost equal to the 2009 Recovery Act and the 2008 Wall Street rescue combined. Democrat’s votes were essential to passing the bill so they could have demanded whatever they wanted. This bill shows the bi-partisan priority for big business.

The bill is too little too late for people who have lost their jobs and for small businesses that have been forced to close. The law includes a one-time $1,200 payment to most people. This payment will arrive after rent and other debt payments are due for a US population with record debt. Congress does not understand the economic realities of people in the United States. Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz explained what was needed saying, “The answer is we need no evictions, no foreclosures on all properties, and the government should guarantee pay.” In addition, credit card companies should also put “a stay on interest on all debt.”

When COVID-19 first began, we pointed out that the US healthcare system was not prepared to respond and showed the problems of putting profits before health. The COVID-19 rescue bill did not pay for coronavirus testing or treatment. Millions of people who lose their jobs will lose their health insurance, demonstrating why healthcare should not be tied to employment. Adding to health problems, the law did not increase the SNAP food program for the poor.

Roughly one-third of the funding goes to direct payments to people, unemployment insurance for four months, hospitals, veterans’ care, and public transit. Two-thirds go to government and corporations. Adam Levitin describes the law as “robbing taxpayers to bail out the rich.”

Congress allotted at least $454 billion to support big business in addition to $46 billion for specific industries, especially airlines. Some of these funds will also bail out the fossil fuel industry. According to the way the Federal Reserve operates, they will be allowed to spend ten times the amount Congress allocated to support big business, $4.5 trillion. Jack Rasmus writes that the Federal Reserve had already “allocated no less than $6.2 Trillion so far to bail out the banks and investors.” He summarizes the disparity: “Meanwhile Congress provides one-fourth that, and only one-third of that one fourth, for the Main St., workers, and middle-class families.”

Trump shows the disdain government has for the people and its favoritism for big business and investors as he objected to paying for 80,000 life-saving ventilators because they cost $1 billion while the government provides trillions to big business and investors. Governors and hospitals are issuing dire warnings of what is to come, but the federal government is not listening.

Economic Collapse Shows The Need For Transformational Change

The economic collapse is still unfolding. The US is already in a deep recession that is likely to be worse than the 2008 financial crisis and could develop into a greater depression if the COVID-19 economic shutdown lasts a long time.

Already, the crises, the government’s support for Wall Street and its failure to protect the 99% are creating louder demands for system change. We need to put forward a bold agenda and agitate around it to demand economic security for all. As Margaret Kimberly writes, we are entering a period of revolutionary change because we know returning to normal is “the opposite of what we need.” Or as Vijay Prashad says, “Normal was the problem.”

While the urgent health and economic crises dominate, the climate crisis also continues. The climate crisis already required replacing the fossil fuel era with a clean and sustainable energy economy and remaking multiple sectors of the economy such as construction, transportation, agriculture, and infrastructure. Now, out of these crises, a new sustainable economic democracy can be born where people control finance, inequality is minimized and workers are empowered, along with creating public programs that meet the necessities of the people and protect the planet.

The US Constitution gives the government the power to create money; Article I, Section 8 says: “The Congress shall have power … to coin money, regulate the value thereof, and of foreign coin.” Congress needs to take back that power so the government can create debt-free money. Currently, the Federal Reserve, which was created by Congress in 1913, is the privately-owned US central bank that produces money and sets interest rates. It puts the interests of the big banks first. The Fed can be altered, nationalized or even dismantled by Congress. Its functions could be put into the Department of the Treasury.

Monetary actions need to be transparent and designed to serve the necessities of the people and the planet. Money should be spent by the government into the economy to meet those needs while preventing inflation and deflation. In this way, the government would have the funds needed to transform to a green energy economy, rebuild infrastructure, provide education from pre-school through college without tuition, create the healthcare infrastructure we need for universal healthcare and more.  In addition, through a network of state and local public banks, people would be able to get cost-only mortgages and loans to meet their needs.

Moving money creation into the federal government would place it within the constitutional system of checks and balances where the people have a voice to ensure it works for the whole society, not only for the bankers and the privileged. This could end the parasitic private banking system and replace it with a democratic public system designed for the people’s needs as Mexico is doing.

Globalization must be reconsidered. Corporate globalization with trade agreements that favor corporate power is a root cause of this global pandemic. We need trade that puts people and the planet first and encourages local production of goods. This includes remaking agriculture to support smaller farms and urban farming using organic and regenerative techniques that increase the nutritional value of foods and sequester carbon.

What we need instead is popular globalization – developing solidarity and reciprocity between people around the world. We can learn from each other, collaborate and provide mutual aid in times of crisis as Cuba and other countries are doing now.

As businesses are bailed out by the government, they could be required to protect and empower workers. Workers’ rights have been shrinking since the 1950s as unions have become smaller and more allied with business interests. The right to collective bargaining needs to be included as a requirement for receiving government funds. For large public corporations, workers should be given a board seat, indeed the government should be given a board seat and an equity share in any corporation that is bailed out. For smaller businesses, as they reopen, it is an opportunity to restructure so worker ownership and workers sharing in the profits become the norm.

The US needs to build the economy from the bottom up. The era of trickle-down economics that has existed since the early 80s has failed most people in the United States. The government needs to create a full-employment economy with the government as the employer of last resort. The American Society of Civil Engineers gives US infrastructure a grade of D+ requiring a $2 trillion dollar investment that would create millions of jobs. The Green New Deal would create 30 million jobs over ten years according to the detailed plan put forward by the Green Party’s Howie Hawkins.

The coronavirus disaster aid includes a payment to every person in the US earning under $70,000. While the one-time $1,200 check is grossly insufficient, it demonstrates the possibility of a universal basic income. This would lift people out of poverty and protect them from the coming age of robots and artificial intelligence that will impact millions of existing jobs. The evidence is growing that a basic income works. A World Bank analysis of 19 studies found that cash transfers have been demonstrated to improve education and health outcomes and alleviate poverty

The United States economy is in a debt crisis that demands quantitative easing for the people. Personal, corporate and government debt is at a record high. While the economic collapse is being blamed on the coronavirus, the reality is that the pandemic was a trigger that led to a recession that was already coming. The US needs to correct those fundamentals — massive debt, a wealth divide, inadequate income, poverty — as part of restarting the economy. Just as the Fed has bought debts to relieve businesses of debt burden, it can do the same for the personal debts of people. We should start by ending the crisis of student debt, which is preventing two generations from participating in the economy. While we make post-high school vocational and college education tuition-free, we should not leave behind the generations suffering from high-priced education.

Rise-Up and Demand Change

To create change, people must demand it. Even before the coronavirus collapse, people were demanding an end to inequality, worker rights, climate justice, and improved Medicare for all, among other issues. In the last two years, the United States has seen record numbers of striking workers. The climate movement is blocking pipelines and infrastructure and shutting down cities. Protests against inequality and debt resistance have existed since the occupy movement.

Now, with the economic collapse, protests are increasing. It’s Going Down reports: “with millions of people now wondering how they are going to make ends meet and pay rent, let alone survive the current epidemic, a new wave of struggles is breaking out across the social terrain. Prisoners and detention center detainees are launching hunger strikes as those on the outside demand that they be released, tenants are currently pushing for a rent strike starting on April 1st, the houseless are taking over vacant homes in Los Angeles, and workers have launched a series of wildcat strikers, sick-outs, and job actions in response to being forced onto the front lines of the pandemic like lambs to the slaughter.”

Workers at the Fiat Chrysler Windsor Assembly Plant walked off the job over concerns about the spread of coronavirus. Pittsburgh garbage collectors refused to pick up trash because their health was not being protected. Chipotle employees walked off the job and publicly protested the company for allegedly penalizing workers who call in sick. Perdue employees in Georgia walked off their jobs on a production line over a wage dispute and management asked workers to put in extra hours without a pay increase during the pandemic. Some Whole Foods workers announced a collective action in the form of a “sick out,” with workers using their sick days in order to strike. In Italy, wildcat strikes erupted to demand that plants be closed for the duration of the virus. Postal workers in London took strike actions due to the risks of the virus.

The pandemic requires creativity in protest. Technology allows us to educate and organize online, as well as to protest, petition, email, and call. There have also been car marches, public transport drivers have refused to monitor tickets, collective messages have been sent from balconies and windows. People are showing they can be innovative to get our message across to decision-makers. We can also build community and strengthen bonds with mutual aid.

If the ownership class continues its call to re-open the economy despite the health risks, the potential of a general strike can become a reality. When Trump called for returning to work the hashtags #GeneralStrike and #GeneralStrike2020— calling on workers everywhere to walk off the job — began trending on Twitter. Rather than a strike against one corporation, people would strike across multiple businesses and could also include a rent and mortgage strike as well as a debt strike. The coronavirus has shown that essential workers are among the lowest-paid workers and that they make the economy function. We also understand that if people refuse to pay their debts or rent, the financial system will collapse. Understanding those realities gives a new understanding of the power of the people.

A general strike, as Rosa Luxembourg described it in 1906, is not ‘one isolated action” but a rallying call for a campaign of “class struggle lasting for years, perhaps for decades.” A general strike could take many forms, including a global day of action. Before the current crises, we saw the decade of the 2020s as a decade of potential transformational change because on multiple fronts movements were growing and demanding responses to an array of crises. Now, the triggers for the economic collapse could also be the trigger for transformational revolt.

We are all in this together. We are all connected and share a common humanity. If we act in solidarity during this time of crisis and in this decade of transformation, we can create the future we want to see for ourselves and future generations.

Fake News, False Democracy and Phony Economics

The growing popularity of an American social democratic presidential candidate who calls himself a democratic socialist has revived every anti-humanity distortion of the past, emanating from the tiny minority ruling our country through its servant class of professionals in media and politics. Newer and more bloody mythologies about supposedly existing socialisms are expanding on the incredible death tolls supposedly inflicted by previous attempts at achieving the common good by confiscating the wealth of royalty and the rich in nations where free markets were supposedly destroyed by savages who felt that one thousand people and one thousand loaves of bread meant they should be distributed one to a person. That was instead of being owned by a capitalist and sold only to those who could amass the market forces to buy bread by creating private profit for the investor-rulers who owned the bakery.

Every attempt at creating a socialist let alone communist society has incurred the bloody violent wrath of the capitalist world, beginning with the Paris Commune of the 19th century, extending to the Soviet Union and China in the twentieth, and continuing to the present when truly electoral democratic attempts at revolutionary transformation in places like Nicaragua, Venezuela and Bolivia are met with external warfare in the form of sanctions and foreign financing of internal opposition reducing populations having finally achieved balanced diets for the first time in their lives to not only scrounging for survival but living under threat of military invasion for doing so.

While this minority created imperial policy that views the world as subject renter and American wealth as royal owner will soon be replaced by real democracy if it doesn’t destroy everything in its process of failing, attempts at creating what is called a “sharing” economy are made by well meaning souls trying to take the merchant relationship away by replacing it with person to person deals, as in the ancient markets which offered humanity a place to bargain as equals. But making a deal with someone at a flea market or neighborhood swap doesn’t really amount to a social change, just as a private non-profit hardly transforms market forces. The non-profit results from massive tax write-offs for the rich making donations that insure their system remains strong, and the innocent personal bartering that takes place among well meaning people is no comparison to a truly collective worker owned democratically controlled enterprise. We might as well claim that McDonalds is “sharing” its burgers and fries with us, as Tesla is “sharing” its autos, General Dynamics “shares” its weapons, and documented pharma and undocumented dope dealers “share” their drugs. The market still rules and it remains under the ownership and control of minority wealth, with the number of dollars they command at a peak never before seen in the history of humanity. The Roman Empire’s wealth amounted to chump change compared to the trillions of dollars owned and controlled by a tiny handful of global, mostly American billionaires.

A philosopher teaching the social values of the capitalist market and calling them democratic is like a pimp teaching social values of the sex market and calling it love, or an economist doing a cost-benefit analysis of dating that skips the expense of dinner and a movie and gets right to the rape. Under the control of such market forces, unless you are the philosopher, the economist or the rapist, ultimately you get screwed. Unfortunately, it is most of the world that has been criminally abused, but rising populations of workers are demanding and taking action for radical change to transform reality before it transforms all of us into lonely souls screeching and tweeting “me-me” while all collapses around “us”.

A real sharing economy will be cooperative, not competitive, involving majority social behavior, not individually imposed anti-social-ism promoted as beneficial for all when it only rewards some at the expense of the many. And too much that passes for “progressive” politics is like the “progressive” tax system which takes far more from the vast majority while rewarding the ruling class of fantastic wealth all manner of deductions, write-offs and constitutionally sanctioned criminality that makes them richer and the rest poorer. That is regressive, not progressive, using words that have nothing to do with the actions, which speak much louder. We need radical economic changes like a 20-hour workweek at a $20 an hour minimum wage, free public transit, worker owned and controlled businesses, public banks, health care for all, and far more. At cries of “how can we afford that? made by the innocent and ignorant under the control of their slick manipulators, try this: Stop spending trillions on war and instead spend it on life. Duh? But, all those jobs will vanish. How will those workers survive? With better jobs that serve humanity – their “identity group” – the environment, and their personal and social lives. Double duh?

We can defend our nation, if such is needed, with a truly defense force that does not involve spending hundreds of billions to place our military in foreign locales. We can save lots of transportation dollars by staying the hell out of other people’s national, political and economic business unless trading with them on a fair, non-superior market forces arrangement but one that treats everyone as having the same rights of pursuit of life and liberty, but in reality instead of just rhetorically.

If we truly mean to aid foreign people in a time of need, we can do it the way Cuba does by sending doctors, nurses and medical equipment at a time of plague or disease, and not the way we’ve always done it by sending bombs, guns and bullets to help prevent looting. And to the really ignorant bordering on stupid charges that we can’t afford to offer our entire population health care under public control because taxes will have to increase: For the rich? Of course. But even if working people see a tax increase of $500, and a health care expense decrease of $1,000, unless their education has exclusively been at private schools, they can see that represents a savings of money, not a loss.

Attempts to transform economic reality have always been, at their core, to establish a class free society of truly equal citizens, with no survival aspect of life denied anyone because it is not affordable. The shame of people living in the street in a society that spends trillions on war and billions on pets should relieve us of any fear of a judgmental, righteous, vindictive Old Testament god. We’d have been wiped out by such a deity, with holocausts, earthquakes, tsunamis and worse until he-she-it was finally rid of us. But our problem is not a deity, nor even the corona virus, which may be a threat to some of us, but  the capitalist virus is a threat to all humanity.

The Sanders campaign is the American equivalent of the growing global demand that ends the hypocrisy of calling minority electoral rule of the rich by the name democracy and using media and political hired help to plant that idiotic notion more deeply into public consciousness.  It wont work anymore. Real democracy means choosing the greater good, not the lesser evil which is the usual choice for the minority that has voted in the past. Hopefully, a majority will show up at the polls and vote for humanity in the majority, contradicting the minority shapers of what passes for conscious reality and beginning the transformation of the nation, in accordance with what is going on all over the world, from a selfish, anti-social and anti-human environment, to one of mutual aid, social justice, peace, and for the first time in human history, rule of the majority. The beginning of that pro-social democracy is dependent on the end of anti-social capitalism.

Trump Betrays His Promise to Protect and Fight for American Workers

Campaigning for the presidency in 2016, Donald Trump promised that, if he was elected, “American worker[s] will finally have a president who will protect them and fight for them.”

Has he kept this promise?

When it comes to protecting workers’ health and safety, his administration has been a disaster.  Once in office, Trump packed the leadership of U.S. regulatory agencies with pro-corporate zealots, leading to predictable results.  They repealed an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) rule requiring employers to keep accurate records of injuries, repealed a rule requiring that federal contractors follow safety and labor laws, and withdrew an OSHA policy allowing workers to participate in OSHA inspections.  In addition, as the AFL-CIO noted, the Trump administration targeted job safety rules for toxic chemicals, mine examinations, and child labor protections for destruction.  It also sharply reduced the number of OSHA inspectors.  As of 2019, only 875 were enforcing health and safety regulations nationwide―the lowest level in the agency’s half-century of operation.

Meanwhile, although Trump bragged in June 2019 that the wages of American workers “are rising at the fastest rate in many decades,” this claim is far from the truth.  In fact, wages rose faster only a few years before, under his predecessor.  Furthermore, an examination of what economists call “real wages”―wages offset by inflation―reveals that they have remained remarkably stagnant during the Trump era.  As the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics later reported, “real” average weekly earnings of American workers rose during 2019 by just one-tenth of 1 percent.

The wage stagnation of the Trump era is particularly hard on America’s vast number of low-paid workers.  According to a study by the Brookings Institution appearing in late 2019, 44 percent of U.S. workers (53 million Americans) were employed in low-wage jobs that paid median wages of $18,000 a year.  The writers of the report concluded that “nearly half of all workers earn wages that are not enough, on their own, to promote economic security.”  Moreover, as data gathered by the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates, the percentage of low-wage workers has grown dramatically.  Naturally, many of these workers have been forced, by economic necessity, to work two―and sometimes three―jobs to survive.

The Trump administration bears considerable responsibility for this impoverishment of American workers.  It has consistently opposed raising the starvation-level federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, set in 2009.  Indeed, Trump opposes establishing any federal wage minimum, and his GOP minions have blocked a minimum wage increase passed in 2019 by the Democratic-controlled House from being introduced in the Senate.  In addition, the Trump administration stymied a scheduled pay raise for federal workers and gutted Obama administration rules that made millions of Americans eligible to receive overtime pay for their overtime work.

Trump has also championed measures to deprive American workers of major healthcare and pension benefits that they have funded through their tax payments.  Although, during his 2015-16 campaign, Trump promised never to cut Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, he has repeatedly sought to do so.   On February 8, 2020, he again insisted that his new federal budget “will not be touching your Social Security or Medicare.”  But, only two days later, Trump unveiled a budget that called for cutting Medicare by half a trillion dollars, Medicaid by $900 billion, and Social Security by $24 billion.

The Trump administration has also been waging an assault upon labor unions, which provide the major organizational muscle defending the rights of America’s workers.  Thanks to Trump’s anti-labor appointments to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), an agency established in the 1930s to guarantee fair treatment for workers and their unions, it has become ever more difficult for unions to operate.  The NLRB has issued rulings constraining how and where workers can organize and protest, gerrymandering bargaining units to the benefit of employers, permitting corporations to fire workers in retaliation for union activity, and narrowing the right to strike.  Given the NLRB’s pro-corporate bias, even existing labor organizations ― such as unions comprised of graduate student workers ― are now being threatened with loss of collective bargaining rights.

In recent decades, as an unrelenting corporate attack has crippled unions in the private sector, big business, the wealthy, and their right wing allies in public office have turned to destroying the lingering strength of public sector unions.  Working toward this goal, they have promoted “right-to-work” laws on the state and national level.  These laws, by eliminating the obligation of workers to pay for the union representation they receive, encourage the emergence of millions of “free riders” and, thereby, provide an effective way to undermine unions.  Shortly after Trump’s inauguration, House Republicans introduced the National Right to Work Act and, within days, the White House announced the new president’s support for “right-to-work” laws.

Although anti-union forces never managed to push the National Right to Work Act through Congress, they did secure an important victory.  After they brought the “right-to-work” case of Janus v. AFSCME before the Supreme Court, Trump’s Justice Department joined the case with an anti-union brief.  Then, thanks to Trump’s appointment of Neil Gorsuch, a right wing ideologue, to the Supreme Court, the court issued a 5-4 ruling, overturning precedent and declaring that workers could refuse to pay dues to public sector unions representing them.

In the aftermath of this decision, public sector unions worked vigorously ― and, in most cases, successfully ― to convince workers to pay dues voluntarily.  But their membership did decline.  Consequently, despite opinion polls showing that about half of America’s non-unionized workers want to join a union, the Janus decision and the other anti-labor measures of the Trump administration have combined to reduce union membership in the United States to a record low of 10.3 percent.

As a New York Times editorial concluded, Trump, as president, has sent “a clear message to American workers:  You’re on your own.”

The Origins of Democratic Socialism: Robert Owen and Worker Cooperatives  

Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) – and its two predecessor organizations, the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee (DSOC) and the New American Movement (NAM) – emerged in the early 1970s, during a long-term rightist movement in the United States.

The DSA’s contribution to the American Left was its new founded identity as a radical organization born out of a merger between the DSOC and NAM. DSA also sought to become a democratic, socialist party, which fostered the inclusion members, similar to that of the Bernie Sander’s presidential campaigns (2016, 2020). Nevertheless, it was under the leadership of DSA Michael Harrington’s penetrating critique of American culture in The Other America (1963), that catalyzed the nascent civil rights movement, its leaders and the Kennedy Administrations to prioritize combatting racism, poverty and inequality. This, in turn, set the stage for Martin Luther King’s “Poor People’s Campaign” and eventually King’s denunciation of American global hegemony. These events thus presaged the Johnson Administration’s Great Society War on Poverty.

The foundations of democratic socialism, and in root the DSA, have its origins in the eighteenth century during the breakdown of feudal Europe, specifically England, where the medieval guilds and the protection of workers’ rights was subsequently replaced as a “commodity” or as Marx describes as “commodity fetishism”. The emergence of capitalism during this period further reinforced the domination of capital over labor and the horror this unleashed on labor in the Industrial Revolution. Confronting this crisis were religious leaders Bishop Joseph Butler and Reverend John Wesley, philosophers and economic reformers, John Locke and Adam Smith, arguing that labor creates profit and value, not capital. Moreover, they argued that workers possess a property right to the profits and value they create. This implied that labor, rightfully, must direct the control of capital since this determines how and to whom surplus value will be distributed in a democratic manner.

Robert Owen and the Industrial Revolution

The origins of this position can be traced to such reformers as Robert Owen. I argue that Owen’s model represents the initial development of what today has become known as “democratic socialism.” The injustices and oppression of the Industrial Revolution provided the context for a democratic socialist economy movement. Led by Robert Owen (1771–1858) and the utopian socialists, private property, understood as the exclusive right of industrialists, was identified as the source of existing exploitation and inequality. While the Industrial Revolution brought about unprecedented wealth, it is without question that only capitalists received the lion’s share. Though labor created massive profits (surplus value) for the capitalist class, labor received a subsistence wage, barely enough to survive. Owen and the utopian socialists sought to counter this injustice by opting for labor’s democratic ownership of capital and the surplus value labor produced. Put in other terms, labor had a “property right” to the profits they created.

The Industrial Revolution that gathered momentum in eighteenth century Europe and the United States created the historical context for democratic socialism. Utopians argued that private property (capital) was the source of existing inequalities, but the framework of their thought, based on conceptions of a pre-industrial society, is today remote. The extensive development of factory production and the social conditions that ensued — and the laissez-faire interpretation of these events favored by conventional economists — created the conditions in which modern socialism was born. Nonetheless, the Industrial Revolution brought about unprecedented increases in productivity based on the development of factories and the widespread use of machinery.

The major cost of these innovations was borne by society’s least powerful — the working class — or, for all intents and purposes, the vast majority of poor. In 1750 the working class in Europe, specifically England and the United States, lived near subsistence levels, and the purchasing power of wages deteriorated considerably during the second half of the eighteenth century. National income grew over this period, so that workers’ relative living standards fell and the potential consumption they involuntarily sacrificed financed the investment required for industrialization. Had working-class incomes kept in step with national income, the average worker would have been approximately 50 percent richer in 1840 than thirty years earlier.

The Industrial Revolution replaced traditional occupations — typically rural farming or guild status as an artisan in various crafts. This change resulted from the breakdown of the old feudal societies of Europe and the industrialization of those same economies due to mechanistic innovations in the means of production. Mechanization facilitated the division of labor, creating tasks that women and children could perform. Entire families often worked to achieve subsistence. The conditions under which labor was performed were unregulated and dangerous and involved long hours in dehumanizing conditions. Moreover, the growth of factory production stimulated urbanization in Europe and the United States. As a result, roads, water, sewage, waste management, public health, and provisions for open spaces failed to keep pace with urban migration, while housing was concentrated in crowded slums. The inevitable result manifested itself in air and water pollution, epidemics of typhoid and cholera, and widespread respiratory and intestinal disease, with a consequent low expectation of life.

Successive administrations in England, specifically during the nineteenth-century Industrial Revolution, were slow to intervene and remedy social problems and maintain the price of bread and impeded, or subverted, the development of trade unions. Within this context it can be asserted that the period of Napoleonic war and the subsequent economic crisis constituted the bleakest chapter in British labor history, precisely because the foundations of modern industry were erected on the suffering of workers denied access to the fruits of an expanding economy. By contrast, capitalists enjoyed absolute power over their labor force. Thus the Industrial Revolution created the modern working class, nominally free but able to live only by selling their labor power. Suffice it to say, Britain witnessed a considerable development of radical economic doctrines in the first half of the nineteenth century.

The Radical Response

Owen’s prestige was based on his reputation as a businessman, an economic theorist, and a social reformer. From the age of ten he served as a draper’s apprentice, but at twenty he was the manager of a large cotton factory at New Lanark, which became renowned throughout Britain for its conditions of work. Owen was a benevolent autocrat who insisted on strict industrial discipline, but in combination with living wages, a decent work environment, abolition of child labor and compulsory education for workers’ children. The profitability of New Lanark demonstrated the shortsightedness of other capitalists’ notion that profit maximization is best achieved through the alienation and exploitation of labor. New Lanark provided a viable moral counterstrategy to neoliberal market rationality.

Late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century industrialization rested on three sets of institutional principles: (1) the absolute nature of private property, (2) a self-regulating laissez-faire market economy, and (3) the transformation of labor into a commodity. While Owen accepted industrial innovations he did not agree with the unrestrained rule of private capital, self-regulating markets, and the exploitation of human labor. He argued these three economic “truths” were the ultimate causes of contemporary inequalities and social injustice and thus urged their elimination. Owen believed that an industrial economy, if it is to be moral, must be created based on the principles that every person must be treated with dignity and the proceeds of production were divided equitably. The operation of any economy was then to be criticized and evaluated according to such principles. Owen believed that a more just and efficient economy should be focused on his experimental model at New Lanark. Thus Owen’s political economy was based on three important “radical” tenants.

The first tenant is based on what Owen described as an “Economy of High Wages.” Owen held the view that a wage increase — or higher labor costs — leads to: (1) an improvement in the living standards of workers, (2) which then leads to greater efficiency and production by workers. In other words, increased wages generate additional revenue for both company and workers. Yet Owen’s theory conflicted with the prevailing orthodoxy, which argued that any wage increase occurred at the expense of profits and hence led to a diminution in employment and economic activity. Nevertheless, by extending the “Economy of High Wages” from an individual firm to the nation, Owen embraced an embryonic under-consumption theory of depressions. He advocated a high-wage policy that maintained purchasing power as a cure for unemployment and promotion of economic growth.

The second tenant on which Owen based his political economy was a belief that an individualistic economy is inequitable, irrational, and antisocial. Moreover private ownership is an institution whereby one class gains power over the rest in order to maximize profits. In contrast, Owen did not attack industry or new technology as it manifested itself in the burgeoning Industrial Revolution. Rather, he denounced private ownership of the means of production, the spread of unfettered and unregulated economic competition, and elements of narcissistic individualism propagated through Enlightenment liberalism. Owen argued to the contrary that private ownership and unrestrained competition destroys social cohesion. Furthermore, he argued that individuals by themselves cannot simply improve their own lot in life. Rather it was within the context of a community and its many support networks that the betterment of individuals was realized.

The third tenant is based on Owen’s labor theory of value premised upon the priority of labor. He viewed human labor as “the natural standard of value” and that this concept required capital and machinery to become the servant of labor. Owen believed that capital and profit are designed to serve the human person and community as its first moral priority. Public policy and not the “market” should determine the amount of labor expended on commodities, and workers ought to be compensated based on both human needs and effort. Owen argued for economic cooperation, rather than competition, through a network of self-governing communes, where private ownership of the means of production was transformed into a democratic alliance eliminating any labor-ownership conflict. Owen argued that capital and profit should never come at the expense of labor.

Owen as Social Reformer

Owen’s career as a national reformer can be understood in different stages. Between the publication of Towards a New View of Society in 1813 and A Report to the County of Lanark in 1821, he concentrated on ameliorating existing social problems such as poverty, child labor, inhumane work hours and unemployment. He thought that these social injustices could be avoided if other manufacturers replicated New Lanark on grounds of “enlightened self-interest.” Indeed, his arguments applied to capitalists more concerned with long-term profitability than with immediate gains, but he found that his appeals met with little response. He then attempted to persuade government to alleviate poverty and inequality and was popular in official circles after 1815, only by virtue of the fact that he focused on the importance of environmental improvements more than his personal brand of socialism. As he advanced beyond the role of wealthy philanthropist to structural reforms that threatened the establishment power centers, he became decreasingly influential in elite circles.

Between 1824-1835, Owen established what he described as “communist” communities. The cities of Orbiston (near Glasgow), Tytherley (in Hampshire) and New Harmony in Indiana were three of the most prominent. The aim was to settle unemployed laborers on the land in self-governed “Villages of Unity and Cooperation.” Such schemes reflected his conviction that society as then constituted would permit cooperatives to supplant existing institutional structures. Owen did this by attempting to persuade the rich and influential about his ideas for social and economic transformation. Nevertheless, the Owenite settlements were challenged partly because of the hostile external environment of the business community and the agricultural depression, which generated an influx of unemployed workers which exceeded capacity. Consequently, an excess supply of labor to the villages of cooperation proved counterproductive to the communist communities yet not insurmountable.

Owen persisted in his collectivist experimentations. In 1824 the London Co-operative Society was formed as a store for cooperative trading, designed to supersede competitive distribution and allow craftsmen to exchange goods without capitalist intermediaries. It aimed to sell at trade prices and use the savings accumulated through elimination of retailers’ profits to financially bolster socialist communities. The next envisaged stage of development involved members’ cooperation to produce directly for each other rather than choosing between capitalist goods sold in their stores. For example, the London Society opened an Exchange Bazaar for societies and individuals to engage in mutual exchange. Owen returned from the United States in 1829, after establishing more than three hundred cooperative societies, in the United States and England. This figure rose to almost five hundred by 1832, although many pursued solely educational objectives.

Cooperative stores bought wholesale and sold retail, the commodities demanded by their members, but cooperative producers faced the difficult problem of obtaining a market for all their products. This problem stimulated development of labor exchanges where workmen and producers’ cooperatives could exchange products directly and thus dispense with both employers and merchants. The most important such institution, the National Equitable Labor Exchange, was established by Owen in 1832 and stimulated the formation of similar exchanges in provincial cities. They sought to secure a wider market for cooperative groups and to enable them to exchange their products at an equitable valuation resting on labor time.

Owen appointed trade union “valuers” to price goods on the basis of the cost of raw materials plus the amount of labor time expended on them. A new currency of labor notes was issued for the conduct of transactions. Crucial weaknesses emerged, however. Labor and commercial prices coexisted; goods the exchanges offered more cheaply were soon disposed of, while the more expensive remained unsold. Exchanges would not control their stocks to demand levels and movements in the manner of capitalist retailers, since they had to take what members brought them. Consequently, they became overstocked where there were many cooperative producers and understocked in trades where there were few.

In particular, their supplies were concentrated on goods that could be produced by craftsmen possessing little capital. Despite this major weakness, they enjoyed considerable success for a time but collapsed in the general crash of the movement in 1834. Even then some exchanges balanced their books while the National Equitable Labor Exchange incurred a heavy debt, which then fell to Owen. When Owen returned to England in 1829, he found that a trade-union movement had emerged after the repeal of the Combination Acts in 1824, and in 1829 he witnessed the formation of the first modern national union, the Operative Spinners.

While this was happening, the next two years saw much social unrest in the form of agricultural riots and a wave of strike activity in the northern textile towns as a means of achieving the eight-hour workday. Then, by 1832 several distinct but related bodies, such as the Owenite societies, cooperative stores, cooperative producers, labor exchange, and trade unions, looked to Owen for leadership. Most were growing rapidly as workers, disillusioned by the terms of the 1832 Reform Act, swung away from political mobilization toward organized labor action. Owen sought the fusion of these groups into one national organization, centrally directed and under worker control, which would challenge and transform economic relations through its practice of cooperative production.

By 1833 the Operative Builders’ Union (OBU) was the largest in the country, with a membership of sixty thousand. The OBU adopted an Owenite agenda to take over the construction industry and reorganize it as a national guild. To implement this program none of its members would work for capitalist builders who refused to join the guild. The owners attempted to destroy the OBU by a lockout by forcing those reemployed to sign a document (i.e., a written pledge not to join a union, which gives the employer the right to fire them if they violate the pledge). The workers lost as the OBU simultaneously fought the lockout and attempted to launch the guild with inadequate financial resources. Its members were then forced back to work by various regions during 1834, and by the end of that year the OBU ceased to exist. It split into craft sections with a greatly reduced membership.

Owen, nevertheless, sought to unite all the associations intended for the improvement of the working class. To this end he inspired the formation of the Grand National Consolidated Trades Union (GNCTU) which was intended to be a single inclusive union aiming to supersede capitalism by a cooperative system based on workers’ control of production. It sought to implement on an economy-wide basis a plan similar to the OBU guild for construction. Ultimately the GNCTU would control, through its constituent members, all industry, thereby taking over the functions of capitalists, parliament, and local government. It would become the locus of economic, and ultimately political, power. The GNCTU’s formation was followed by feverish organization by discounting cooperative retail and producer societies; unions alone attracted over one million members.

As with the OBU, owners reacted to the GNCTU by presenting the document to workers, with the threat of a lockout if not signed. This response originated in Derby; it was imitated in other towns, but Derby remained the test struggle. The workers lost, being forced back to work after a lockout lasting four months. Given the repeal of the Combination Acts, the case was pursued under the 1797 Naval Mutinies Act, which was never intended to apply to trade unions. Nonetheless, this opportunity for the government to deter union organization arose because many unions adopted secret initiation ceremonies under the threat of employer retaliation. As a result, the GNCTU encountered severe administrative problems. The recruits it made and the disputes it faced were so abundant that urgent problems of management were inevitably ignored.

Internal dissention developed, and Owen became disillusioned; he hoped to initiate bloodless revolution by providing examples of the benefits derived from cooperation. Accordingly he dissolved the GNCTU in August 1834, arguing for a return to education and the need for an ethical appeal in preference to coercion. The GNCTU faded away, but some of its constituent groups and elements of its cooperative ideology remained. Owen returned to establishing villages of cooperation (e.g., Queenswood in 1839), and in 1844 the Rochdale Pioneers’ Cooperative Society developed from a local Owenite body. However, after 1834 the thrust of working-class agitation moved from industrial to political arenas, focusing on the demands of the Chartists.

The Grand National Consolidated Trades Union was undoubtedly a failure in its implementation, yet it was attempting an impossible task that no leadership could have achieved. This is because trade unions were still learning the art of organizing into a cohesive, effective unit. At the time, workers were only able to accomplish sporadic results from organizing into unions and cooperatives. However, they were unable to achieve any sustained action. By contrast, having just won a significant political victory in the 1832 Reform Act, factory owners and burgeoning industrialists were determined in their resolve to counter any form of organized-labor movement or cooperative-based industry. They also possessed the support of a Whig government determined to show that the Reform Act would not destroy property rights. Against such power, workers were poorly paid, uneducated, and only beginning to understand the importance to organized efforts to seek improved working conditions and living-wage salaries.

Although Owen’s innovations beyond the sphere of New Lanark failed during his lifetime, he left an enduring legacy to the future of radical theory. The influence of Owen’s would be: (1) he established a personal example of one who cast aside his personal wealth in an endeavor to secure a more just future for others, (2) the economic measures at New Lanark illustrated that a policy of high wages and improved conditions need not destroy profitability, (3) many of Owen’s theoretical innovations (e.g., labor value to replace money as an Equitable Labor Exchange) are not inherently impractical, (4) his theories of, and attempts to establish, workers’ cooperatives made Owen the instigator of a significant movement of later times, as developments from the Rochdale Pioneers of 1844 demonstrate, and (5) Owen’s appreciation of the role of trade unions in replacing individual worker motivations by collective policy provided a clue to improving quantitative and qualitative living standards and also pointed to a force that could potentially be harnessed for achieving a future transformation of just and productive economic relations.

Owen’s approach to resolving economic injustice epitomized the Utopian approach to resolving exploitation. He hoped for individual conversion, then government action. Yet this was an unrealistic ambition given the existing power structure at the time. What Owen lacked was a theory of class struggle, believing instead that the transition to socialism, or a more democratic economy, would occur through the influence of reason and persuasion. Nevertheless, the idea of reconciling capital and labor and Owen’s worker co-operatives, represents what is, arguably, the initial stages of democratic socialism in the tradition of Michael Harrington’s Democratic Socialists of America and the radical legacy of Bernie Sanders, Cornel West and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

• Author’s Note:  Marx, in Capital, discusses the expropriation of agricultural land from the poor who are dependent on that very land for their basic needs. The historical context of the enclosure movement was based on a policy measure initiated by the aristocracy and wealthy land owners in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century England. The movement was aimed at confiscating land that was owned in common by a village or at least available to the village for grazing animals and growing food. The enclosure movement was designed to expropriate village land and redistribute it to the aristocracy and wealthy for their ownership. In 1845 British Parliament passed the Enclosure Act of 1845, in which the British government started “enclosing” land (walls, fences, or hedges) and awarding this land to the aristocracy and wealthy land owners who, arguably, knew how to make more efficient use of it. The consequence for the people who were using this land was often eviction, sending many of them to slums in the cities in hopes of finding work in low-paying jobs such as factory work spawned by the Industrial Revolution. The most well-known enclosure movements were in the British Isles, but the practice had its roots in the Netherlands and caught on to some degree throughout Northern Europe and elsewhere as industrialization spread.

Tech’s Labor Activism

Gig workers in California are celebrating the passage of Assembly Bill 5 (AB 5) making sure that gig economy workers are entitled to minimum wage, workers’ compensation and other benefits due to go into effect 1 January, 2020. Meanwhile, Google’s “shadow work force,” the masses of temporary workers and contractors (approximately 54 percent of Google’s work force), is challenging Google’s seemingly unmitigated power by unionizing. In fact, two weeks ago, the two-thirds of Google’s temp workers in Pittsburgh voted to unionize despite the firm outsourcing Google’s contractors, HCL America Inc., urging its temp workers to vote against unionizing.

What does this push by Google temporary and contract workers say about the future of tech workers who have been caught outside the elite contracts offered to the more educated and specialized workers that Google depends upon? In fact, given that these contractors hold white-collar positions yet live in a constant precarious economic state, it is more than high time that we examine the rights of workers today.

This past April, over 929 Google employees signed a petition in support of contractors who worked on Google Assistant and were let go. The contractors (TVCs) Google uses make up approximately 54% of Google’s workforce calling into question why some get contracts (meaning workers’ rights and benefits) while many more do not. It also calls into question contemporary hiring practices where in August 2018 over 3,000 security guards, contracted to work for tech giants like Google and Facebook, ratified their first union contract after raising similar problems. In fact, SEIU United Service Workers West in its press release noted that before the union contract agreement, many of the security officers were making between $12 and $14 an hour.  This is approximately between $25,000 to $30,000 a year, barely a hair above California’s state minimum wage. And when you take into account that much of the work to be undertaken by these guards is in Silicon Valley, one of the most expensive places on the planet to live, what these guards take home is poverty level income.

While labor laws differ often from state to state just as do certain conditions of minimum wage and other rights, there is the basic fact of employment law which, according to Hutchison & Stoy, allows workers to appeal policies they deem to discriminate against them. The bigger problem is who can afford the time, effort and risk of lost labor due to employer retaliation?  And even though Google’s shadow labor force works alongside full-time Google employees, these temporary workers are employed by third-party contractors who guarantee them none of the rights of other full-time Google workers: they earn less money and have no paid vacation time. And until this Spring when Google changed course in its policy, many in the tech sector doing contract work also have no healthcare coverage.

There are organizations battling these issues head-on such as the Tech Workers Coalition and others pushing to make existing unions fit tech workers into their agenda. And there are many pushing for the creation of a tech worker union specific to the problems unique to tech specialists that simply don’t fit into the steel worker union model, nor are these unions equipped to deal with the kinds of issues that tech workers face.

Sure, there are myriad issues of abuses of power that are common to all types of labor today as the recent Amazon victory in Sacramento demonstrates.  Yet there is an increase of consciousness among temporary and gig economy workers who are viewing their role in the workplace as compared to their contemporaries who have full-time contracts replete with perks. Certainly, they are not immune to the logical fallacies that permeate the job market today where certain individuals are allowed secure work contracts while others live in severe precarity.

While Wired declared 2018 to be the year that tech workers realized that they were workers, 2019 is the year that this nail is driven into the coffin. If anything, this is the year that people of all pay grades and levels of education are banding together to ask why one type of person should deserve access to housing, education and healthcare, while another does not.

It’s time that we all ask this question and close ranks with our brothers and sisters who are living in precarity for big tech and beyond.

Workers Need More Rights and Economic Democracy

As someone who has been a union member since I was a Marine with the American Servicemen’s Union until I retired last year as a Teamster as well as a member of the Industrial Workers of the World, I have lived the reality of mistreatment of workers in the United States.

It is good to see labor rising with teacher and other strikes increasing across the country and with the US public showing its highest support for unions in decades. The next president should harness the energy of working people and build political power for a transformation agenda for working people who have not gotten a real raise in decades, while executives and investors have been getting rich off of higher rates of exploitation with increased productivity and globalized markets and corporate-managed trade deals that enable global corporations to pit the working classes of different countries against each other in a race to the bottom.

Urgent Reforms Needed, Time to Transform the Workplace

The centerpiece of my campaign for president is an ecosocialist Green New Deal. Responding to the climate crisis is going to require changes to many sectors of the economy. We need to create a new democratic and ecological economy. We must define this economy with the rights of workers in mind, not only their right to collective bargaining but the need to make workers into owners to end the capitalist crisis highlighted by the reality that three people have wealth equal to 50 percent of the population.

We need social and cooperative ownership where workers receive the full value of their labor. Now we are exploited. We get a fixed wage and all the surplus value we create with our work is taken by capitalists as profits simply because they own the company, not because they did any work.

The Green New Deal requires the United States to reconstruct all economic sectors for ecological sustainability, from agriculture and manufacturing to housing and transportation. This means millions of new jobs in a democratized economy where some sectors are nationalized, others are controlled by state and municipal government and more are re-made into cooperatives that are worker-owned.

A Green New Deal must include a Just Transition, which means income to compensate all workers whose jobs are eliminated by steps taken to protect the environment. Displaced workers should be guaranteed up to five years of their previous income and benefits as they make the transition to alternative work.

As part of the Green New Deal, I am calling for an Economic Bill of Rights, which includes a job guarantee and a guaranteed minimum income above poverty for all. The housing crisis will be alleviated with the institution of universal rent control and expansion of public housing in walkable communities with access to regional mass transit. Air and water pollution will be relieved by putting in place a 100% electrified transportation system emphasizing freight rails, high-speed inter-city rails, and urban light-rail mass transit, with electric powered cars and trucks where they are still needed.

A crash program of federal government investment and public enterprises to rebuild our economy for zero greenhouse gas emissions and 100% clean energy by 2030 will create full employment and shared prosperity. But not everyone is able to work. And some things should be human rights, not commodities you can only get if you have enough money. That’s why we need a social safety net of social services funded publicly, not privately out of pocket. That means a national health service for universal health care, lifelong free public education, student debt relief, and a secure retirement by doubling Social Security benefits. The ecosocialist Green New Deal is a plan to remake the economy so that it serves the people and protects the ecology and the climate. Those objectives require a socialist economic democracy so that we the people–not big business interests–have the power to choose economic justice and ecological sanity.

Immediate Reforms For Working People

In addition to changes coming as a result of putting in place an ecosocialist Green New Deal, we need are immediate labor law reforms.

Repeal Repressive Labor Laws: Repeal the sections of the Taft-Hartley Act, the Landrum-Griffin Act, the Hatch Act, and state “Right-To-Work” laws that have crippled labor’s ability to organize by outlawing or severely restricting labor’s basic organizing tools: strikes, boycotts, pickets, and political action. This should include putting in place Card Check which extends union bargaining status to majority sign-up or card-check recognition.

A Workers’ Bill of Rights: Enact a set of legally enforceable civil rights, independent of collective bargaining. This should include:

(1) Extending the Bill of Rights protections of free speech, association, and assembly into all workplaces.

(2) Establishes workers’ rights to living wages, portable pensions, information about chemicals used, report labor and environmental violations, refuse unsafe work, and participate in enterprise governance. OSHA must be funded adequately to protest workers and communities and workers empowered to enforce safety and health regulations. Retirement should include a mandatory system of Guaranteed Retirement Accounts that provide a return of at least 3 percent above inflation guaranteed by the federal government.

(3) Establishes workers’ rights to freedom from discharge at will, employer search and seizure in the workplace, sexual harassment, and unequal pay for work of comparable worth. These rights should ensure that workers can take legal action to stop wage theft. In addition to a living wage, workers should have subsidized, high quality child care and elder care. Workers should receive six weeks of paid vacation annually in addition to federal holidays. For every seven years worked, they should receive one year of paid educational leave and one year of parental leave for each child with no loss of seniority.

Employer Accountability: There must be strong and speedy penalties for employers who break labor laws. In addition, federal law needs to ban striker replacements, provide triple back pay for illegally locked-out workers, and there must be unemployment compensation for striking and locked-out workers.

Labor Law Protections for Farm workers: Extend to farm workers the same rights under labor law as other workers, including A Day of Rest, Overtime Pay, Collective Bargaining Protections, Disability Insurance, Unemployment Insurance, Child Labor Protections, and Occupational Safety and Health Standards.

Labor Law Protections for Prisoners: Enact legislation to end the super-exploitation of prison labor at pennies per hour, which undercuts the wages of workers outside the prison system. The prison labor system as it exists now is akin to slavery and the prison labor camps in other authoritarian countries. Work done by prisoners can be part of rehabilitation and enable prisoners to acquire job skills, support their families, and have savings upon release. Work done by prisoners for private contractors and for public works and services should be paid prevailing wages. Prison workers should have all the protections of labor law, including the right to organize unions.

Fair Trade: Trade deals should be rewritten to uplift labor and environmental standards across borders. Fair trade pacts should eliminate secretive trade tribunals to which only governments and corporations have access. Trade disputes should be adjudicated in public courts to which workers, unions, and public have access.

It is time to correct the decades of diminishing worker rights and shrinking unions as well as low-pay. The United States is about to begin a transformation to a clean, sustainable energy future. The new economy we create must prioritize the rights of workers to create an economy that works for the 99 percent, not just the 1 percent.

In the U.S. they are never called human rights violations

Trump’s 2020 budget proposal reflects another significant increase in military spending along with corresponding cuts in spending by Federal agencies tasked with the responsibility for providing critical services and income support policies for working class and poor people. Trump’s call for budget cuts by Federal agencies is mirrored by the statutorily imposed austerity policies in most states and many municipalities. Those cuts represent the continuing imposition of neoliberal policies in the U.S. even though the “A” word for austerity is almost never used to describe those policies.

Yet, austerity has been a central component of state policy at every level of government in the U.S. and in Europe for the last four decades. In Europe, as the consequences of neoliberal policies imposed on workers began to be felt and understood, the result was intense opposition.  However, in the U.S. the unevenness of how austerity policies were being applied, in particular the elimination or reduction in social services that were perceived to be primarily directed at racialized workers, political opposition was slow to materialize.

Today, however, relatively privileged workers who were silent as the neoliberal “Washington consensus” was imposed on the laboring classes in the global South — through draconian structural adjustment policies that result in severe cutbacks in state expenditures for education, healthcare, state employment and other vital needs — have now come to understand that the neoliberal program of labor discipline and intensified extraction of value from workers, did not spare them.

The deregulation of capital, privatization of state functions — from road construction to prisons, the dramatic reduction in state spending that results in cuts in state supported social services and goods like housing and access to reproductive services for the poor — represent the politics of austerity and the role of the neoliberal state.

This materialist analysis is vitally important for understanding the dialectical relationship between the general plight of workers in the U.S. and the bipartisan collaboration to raid the Federal budget and to reduce social spending in order to increase spending on the military. This perspective is also important for understanding the imposition of those policies as a violation of the fundamental human rights of workers, the poor and the oppressed.

For the neoliberal state, the concept of human rights does not exist.

As I have called to attention before, a monumental rip-off is about to take place once again. Both the Democrats and Republicans are united in their commitment to continue to feed the U.S. war machine with dollars extracted — to the tune of 750 billion dollars — from the working class and transferred to the pockets of the military/industrial complex.

The only point of debate is now whether or not the Pentagon will get the full 750 billion or around 733 billion. But whether it is 750 billion or 733 billion, the one sector that is not part of this debate is the public. The attention of the public has been adroitly diverted by the absurd reality show that is Russiagate. But this week, even though the budget debate has been disappeared by corporate media, Congress is set to begin debate on aspects of the budget and specifically on the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

Raising the alarm on this issue is especially critical at this moment. As tensions escalate in the Persian Gulf, the corporate media is once again abdicating its public responsibility to bring unbiased, objective information to the public and instead is helping to generate support for war with Iran.

The Democrats, who have led the way with anti-Iran policies over the last few decades, will be under enormous pressure not to appear to be against enhancing military preparedness and are likely to find a way to give Trump and the Pentagon everything they want.

Support for Human Rights and Support for Empire is an Irreconcilable Contradiction

The assumption of post-war capitalist order was that the state would be an instrument to blunt the more contradictory aspects of capitalism. It would regulate the private sector, provide social welfare support to the most marginal elements of working class, and create conditions for full employment. This was the Keynesian logic and approach that informed liberal state policies beginning in the 1930s.

The idea of reforming human rights fits neatly into that paradigm.

As seen, a state’s legitimacy was based on the extent to which it recognized, protected and fulfilled the human rights of all its citizens and residents. Those rights included not only the right to information, assembly, speech and to participation in the national political life of the nation but also the right to food, water, healthcare, education, employment, substantial social security throughout life, and not just as a senior citizen.

The counterrevolutionary program of the late 60s and 70s, especially the turn to neoliberalism which began in the 70s, would reject this paradigm and redefine the role of the state. The obligation of the state to recognize, protect and fulfill human rights was eliminated from the role of the state under neoliberalism.

Today the consequences of four decades of neoliberalism in the global South and now in the cosmopolitan North have created a crisis of legitimacy that has made state policies more dependent on force and militarism than in any other time, including the civil war and the turmoil of the 1930s.

The ideological glue provided by the ability of capitalism to deliver the goods to enough of the population which guaranteed loyalty and support has been severely weakened by four decades of stagnant wages, increasing debt, a shrinking middle-class, obscene economic inequality and never-ending wars that have been disproportionately shouldered by the working class.

Today, contrary to the claims of capitalism to guarantee the human right to a living wage ensuring “an existence worthy of human dignity,” the average worker is making, adjusted for inflation, less than in 1973; i.e., some 46 years-ago. 140 million are either poor or have low-income; 80% living paycheck to paycheck; 34 million are still without health insurance; 40 million live in “official poverty;” and more in unofficial poverty as measured by alternative supplemental poverty (SPM).  And more than half of those over 55 years-old have no retirement funds other than Social Security.

In a report, Philp Alston, the UN’s special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, points out that: the US is one of the world’s wealthiest countries. It spends more on national defense than China, Saudi Arabia, Russia, the United Kingdom, India, France and Japan combined.

However, that choice in public expenditures must be seen in comparison to the other factors he lays out:

  • US infant mortality rates in 2013 were the highest in the developed world.
  • Americans can expect to live shorter and sicker lives, compared to people living in any other rich democracy, and the “health gap” between the US and its peer countries continues to grow.
  • US inequality levels are far higher than those in most European countries
  • In terms of access to water and sanitation the US ranks 36th in the world.
  • The youth poverty rate in the United States is the highest across the OECD with one quarter of youth living in poverty compared to less than 14% across the OECD.

For African Americans in particular, neoliberalism has meant, jobs lost, hollowed out communities as industries relocated first to the South and then to Mexico and China, the disappearance of affordable housing, schools and hospital closings, infant and maternal mortality at global South levels, and mass incarceration as the unskilled, low-wage Black labor has become economically redundant.

This is the backdrop and context for the budget “debate” and Trump’s call to cut spendings to Departments of Housing and Urban Development, Education, Labor, Health and Human Services, the Environmental Protection Agency, and even the State Department.

The U.S. could find 6 trillion dollars for war since 2003 and 16 trillion to bail out the banks after the financial sector crashed the economy, but it can’t find money to secure the human rights of the people.

This is the one-sided class war that we find ourselves in; a war with real deaths and slower, systematic structural violence. Neither the Democrats nor the Republicans can be depended on to secure our rights or protect the world from the U.S. atrocities. That responsibility falls on the people who reside at the center of the Empire to not only struggle for ourselves but to put a brake on the Empire’s ability to spread death and destruction across the planet.

Marx Still Prevents the Progress of Society

If one searches “theory of alienation” in Google, predominately Marx’s theory comes out because other theories of alienation in a political and economic level do not exist. The question is why? What is so incredible in Marx’s statement that workers get alienated from the products of their labour, which alienates them from themselves? It just does not hold much water because everyone who produces for the market gets alienated from the product at the moment of purchase.

Marx strongly contributed to the scientific understanding of capitalism. He stated that capitalists profit from the production, while their workers only receive a fraction of the capitalist’s profit as wages. Capitalists exploit workers by paying them low earnings. Marx was right about this. He believed that exploitation of workers might be eliminated through socialist revolution only. Marx was wrong here because a violent revolution cannot better society. Although a revolution may replace a certain social injustice, it has always been replaced with a new kind. To ensure the lasting effect of revolutions, new leadership are generally autocratic, and therefore spread alienation throughout society with all the unfavourable dictatorial phenomena that are well-known throughout history. Revolutions have never contributed to the improvement of society as it was desired by people. Marx did not have enough data to be able to build his vision of socialism scientifically. As a result, his vision of socialism failed.

Thanks to social scientists, it is still not known what exactly creates exploitation of workers even though the answer is straightforward – unemployment creates exploitation. Unemployed workers are pressured to accept poorly paid jobs to feed their families. When we eliminate unemployment, we will create a fair market for work. The lack of workers will increase their demand on the market so that employers will have to pay them more. This will create a chain reaction in which workers’ salaries will grow, while employers would still make profits. We may say this would eliminate exploitation. There is no formula which would determine what exploitation is, only workers dissatisfied with their earnings may present it. A fair market of work will remove this dissatisfaction.

The rise in workers’ salaries in the fair market can be proved. In the 14th Century, the Black Death killed one-third of the European population which suddenly increased demand for workers. The shortage of workers increased the workers’ wages. At Cuxham (Oxfordshire, England), a plowman demanded from his Lord a payment 3.3 times greater in 1350 than in the previous year (The Economic Impact of the Black Death, Economic History Association). “In Parliament, in 1351 the Commons petitioned Edward III for a more resolute and effective response. They complained that “servants completely disregard the said ordinance in the interests of their ease and greed and that they withhold their services to great men and others unless they have liveries and wages twice or three times as great as [prior to the plague] to the serious damage of the great men and impoverishment of all members of the said commons.””1

According to this, if a political party wins an election offering a reduction of work to 5 hours per day; the lack of workers would increase workers’ salaries 2-3 times per hour in one year. The daily wages would rise 30-90% for just a 5-hour shift. Workers would work shorter hours and earn more. It has already happened, and it is much easier to accomplish than raising a revolution.

So who is going to pay for such an increase in salary? The wealthy employers, of course! Right now they collect this money as profit for themselves. Can employers refuse to increase worker salaries? They can, but then their workers would find a new employer who would pay more, and that means they will lose the possibility to maintain their businesses. When workers earn more they will purchase more which will, in turn, increase the employers’ profits. So, why have we not created a good economy so far? Because the more workers earn, the less they depend on the rich. The rich keep their power in society by maintaining the fear of unemployment. More about it is presented in my article: Let’s remove unemployment.

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Marx thought that the market economy caused the exploitation of workers, so he proposed the elimination of the market economy by a centrally planned economy. Marx knew that the elimination of market economy removes the indicators of economic efficiency so he called upon for worker conscience to replace it. It revealed a consistency problem of Marx’s philosophy. Human conscience belongs to idealism and it was never able to improve society because it was never accepted on the social level. The planned economy was supposed to produce goods and services in quality and quantity to satisfy people’s needs. But the leaders have never learned how to gather people’s needs, so they decided it for them. Such economy alienates itself from the people. The socialist economy also deteriorates because revolutions replace experienced entrepreneurs with inexperienced theorists. The socialist ideology overprotects workers while also taking their freedom which does not stimulate them to work enough. The planned economy is not able to make the balance between production and consumption leaving people unsatisfied. As a result, the Marxist’s economy failed to satisfy people’s needs sufficiently.

The planned economy was tried in the USSR and China. It has significantly reduced material exploitation of workers which exists in capitalist countries but also, it decreased the efficiency of the economy. The economy in the USSR and China had much lower productivity than capitalist economies. The USSR collapsed due to the inefficiency of the planned economy. Thus, Marxism failed. China has learned on their own mistakes, abandoned the planned economy in 1980, and accepted the regulated market economy. From that moment it has become the fastest growing economy in the world, threatening to take the number one place soon. This explains everything about the Marxist economy.

Taking into account the failures of Marxism, why does it deserve such a significant presence in science, media, and in hearts of Marxists? It would not be possible without the approval of the owners of corporations. Without it, Marxists would not be able to participate in political elections. Neither would they be able to teach Marxism at universities and get media support. Why do the rich help the Marxist ideology which promotes violent confiscation of their property? The rich simply knew Marxism could not be a threat to capitalism. Otherwise, it would be banned. They knew that Marxism is on the wrong track and support it because Marxism prevents the progress of society. If Marx proposed reducing work hours instead of revolution, his philosophy would not be supported, and hardly anybody would know he has ever existed.

This is how the conspiracy of the rich works. By supporting Marx, the rich have successfully prevented a better society for 100 years. Now capitalists know they cannot cheat people by supporting revolutions and planned economy anymore, but they do not abandon Marxism because a large number of people are romantically and emotionally still connected to Marx. Most Marxists accepted Marx’s ideology when they were young. Youthful rebellion based on dissatisfaction and injustice in society made them easy prey for the manipulation of the rich. The rich hid the cause of the exploitation and promoted Marx’s philosophy as the escape from the problem. Marx made revolution scientifically acceptable, and people acknowledged it through the study of his excessive work.

Marxists recognize the failures of Marxism, but they still believe they need to find the right method to implement Marx’s philosophy correctly. By accepting Marxism they cannot change their opinion significantly anymore, especially not if a simple idea like shorter work hours tries to break it. The rich are masters of deception and Marxists cannot admit they have been deceived. Helped by the rich, Marxists got a strong influence in the political Left and by promoting the ideology which does not work, they help the rich. They are also helping the rich by preventing new left ideas from coming.

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This is precisely what has happened to me. I have presented how to create a good society in the book Humanism – A Philosophic-Ethical-Political-Economic Study of the Development of the Society. It is available free of charge online. The book is based on an original theory of alienation. It states that subjectivity alienates us from objective reality. Subjectivity puts us on the wrong path so that we cannot satisfy our needs. The escape from all problems of humankind lies in the building of objective vision of reality. Democratic acceptance of equal human rights will do it. The implementation of equal human rights will solve all social problems. Nothing else we need for building a good social life and nothing else can make it.

Marx was right when he called upon for equal human rights among people, but he did not see the scope of its development. The ultimate stage of equal human rights will create an equal possibility for the employment of every worker at every public work post at any time. It will be necessary to open a permanent competition of workers for every public work post. The best worker would get the right to work at any time. I know it sounds impossible because such a division of labour never existed. But the realization of it is just a technical problem. The system I have developed will effectively evaluate the productivity of work offers, define the job responsibilities of workers, and harmonize rewards for work. In short, the workers who offer the highest productivity and responsibility, and demand the lowest salary will get the job. No economy can be more productive than the one where each job gets the best available worker. Public companies will become more productive than private ones so that the latter will go down in history. Only this should be called socialism. I wrote more about it in the article: The Failures of Marxism and the Right Path to Socialism and Communism.

The market is the best choice for the economy. The market of goods allocates every good to the most capable purchaser who needs and loves it the most. The producers profit from it the most as well. The further development of the market will improve the economy much more. The market of work will eliminate work privileges which will make each job equally demanded. Such a market will allocate every job to the most productive worker who needs and loves it the most. Shorter work hours will eliminate unemployment while less desirable jobs will be compensated with higher incomes. The market will help society to reach the best life possible. I have presented the bright future of humankind also through stories in three screenplays: Good Capitalism, Good Socialism, and Good Communism.

Even if my ideas are wrong, which they are not, my effort deserves to be noticed, but I have experienced a total refusal by media, science, politics, and film industry. The people who hear me offering increasing salaries for shorter work time, which is the first step in developing the economy and society, think it is too good to be true no matter what arguments I give. Public discussion may help, but it is prevented. One of the reasons for that is Marxists do not like my work.

However, the rich cannot hide the truth forever. It will break through one day. Then people will accept the benefits of full employment and request shorter work hours. The rich will resist it, of course, but they cannot win against united people. This will be the hardest part of creating a perfect society.

  1. Michael Bennett, The Impact of the Black Death on English Legal History, Australian Journal of Law and Society, 1995, Page 197.